We have purified coated vesicles from rat liver by differential ultracentrifugation. Electron micrographs of these preparations reveal only the polyhedral structures typical of coated vesicles. SDS PAGE of the coated vesicle preparation followed by Coomassie Blue staining of proteins reveals a protein composition also typical of coated vesicles. We determined that these rat liver coated vesicles possess a latent insulin binding capability. That is, little if any specific binding of 125I-insulin to coated vesicles is observed in the absence of detergent. However, coated vesicles treated with the detergent octyl glucoside exhibit a substantial specific 125I-insulin binding capacity. We visualized the insulin binding structure of coated vesicles by cross-linking 125I-insulin to detergent-solubilized coated vesicles using the bifunctional reagent disuccinimidyl suberate followed by electrophoresis and autoradiography. The receptor structure thus identified is identical to that of the high-affinity insulin receptor present in a variety of tissues. We isolated liver coated vesicles from rats which had received injections of 125I-insulin in the hepatic portal vein. We found that insulin administered in this fashion was rapidly and specifically taken up by liver coated vesicles. Taken together, these data are compatible with a functional role for coated vesicles in the receptor-mediated endocytosis of insulin.

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